The Great Wall was a ball and we didn't fall :)

Trip Start Aug 24, 2008
Trip End Jul 01, 2009

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

        We woke up bright and early (4:30am) Monday morning to make sure we made it to the train station on time-since it was a holiday, we were told the train station would be extremely chaotic- and it was. Once we got on the train, we sat in our seats and got comfortable which was unlike any other person on board- throughout the entire trip people were constantly up and moving around- getting hot water for their instant noodle breakfasts, swinging their kids and singing, playing loud games on their cell phones, hitting our chairs and screaming from seat to seat(even if they were right next to each other). It wasn't an enjoyable 2 hours to say the least. But we brushed it off as soon as we arrived- all of us knew it was going to be a great week. 
        The first thing we did was purchase our return tickets to make sure we'd be able to get home. I used hand gestures and the very limited Chinese i know to ask a teenager if we were in the right line to buy tickets for Shijiazhuang and she surprised me by answering in English (guess i shouldn't have been too surprised since Helen told me to always ask a young person for help since they usually know the most English).
        We found where we could get on the bus we needed to take us close to our hostel and stampeded our way on along with about 100 other people- i don't think there's a legal limit as to how many people can be on a bus cuz if there was, we definitely would've been over it- an accident would've been terrible! I was so happy I had talked to Clare before the trip because she made getting around so easy for us. Told us what bus to take, how to walk to our hostel, how to get to certain restaurants, etc. 
          Our hostel was really nice- the nicest I've ever stayed in. The rooms were extremely clean, they had free internet, a pool table, a huge lounge with a nice tv and couches, a restaurant with a full menu, and most importantly amaaaazing water pressure in the showers. Now that we're back in the shiz, we're really missing that- our water pressure here is awful.
         We hung out for a while and talked about what all we wanted to do while we were there- not too many touristy things since we knew we'd be coming back somewhat often and wanted to spread everything out. We decided we really wanted to do the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.
        We went to lunch at a place Clare told me about (my book also noted it's great sandwiches and salads-our first western meal- so good!) and then went back to our hostel to compare tours for the Great Wall. There are four parts of the wall we could choose from- Badaling which has been restored and is extremely touristy, the Mutianyu which has also been restored, has many shops and is pretty touristy as well and then there's Simatai and Jinshanling- a four hour steep hike from one end to the other. These parts haven't been restored and we were told it's a pretty intense hike and it's the best way to experience the wall so we decided on that one. We figured it couldn't be that hard if people sign up for it on a daily basis. We booked it through another hostel because it included transportation and all entrance fees for our 10 k hike. We found out how to get to the other hostel to sign up for the tour and discovered it was located in this really cool area with a lot of vintage shops and cute restaurants.
        Afterward, we walked around the city and thanks to Jane's great map, we made it to Beihai Park. There was a really pretty lake with lots of boats and people galore. I laid in the grass for a while just taking everything in. We played cards for a bit and then climbed up to this big temple that overlooked the Forbidden City. We were all pretty tired so headed back to the hostel and ate dinner at the hostel restaurant- really surprised at how good it was. We laid low that night cuz we knew we had another early morning and a long day ahead of us.
        We woke up at 5am to be at the other hostel by 6:30. We met a bunch of other foreigners that were doing the same hike and were on our way to the wall. We arrived after three hours (the other parts are much closer to the city) and received our tickets. Our driver told us we had the option of taking a cable car to the start (he suggested this so we could save our energy for the rest of the hike) or we could walk to the start which would take about 30 minutes. We thought, 30 minutes, thats nothin, lets just walk it. After 15 minutes we all wished we had taken the cable car- it was 30 min of steep, slippery steps to the start point of the hike. When we got there we thought, well atleast that part is over- HA! The next four hours was a constant up and down hike on wobbly rocks- we talked about how in any other country you'd have to sign a waiver in case of injury not to sue! it was awesome though. The views were incredible and it felt good to breath in such fresh air. We were surprised how hot it was since the city was a little chilly. We all wore sweatshirts and immediately took em off cuz we were sweatin like crazy. the bugs were pretty bad too- one got me really good right on the back of my neck- i discovered it the next day when i went to itch my neck and realized i opened a huge bite- sorry, i know thats graphic. i asked Kara to look at it to see if she could figure out what it was and she said it was really bad-there was a quarter sized bruised scab that has still not heeled even with repeated applications of neosporin. i figure if it scars, at least i'll have a good story behind it, ha. When we reached the bridge, (which told us the end was near) we saw people zip lining and knew we had to do it! Jane said she would most definitely die of a heart attack if she were to do it so she offered to take our back packs down the rest of the way. It was a blast! I attached a video i took while zip lining- i look like a total dork but i'll give you a feel of what it was like. After ziplining, we took a boat to where our shuttle was picking us up. On the way home, everyone was exhausted, and accomplished. For the next week, we were reminded of the steep hike every time we approached stairs (which was often seeing that our room was on the fourth floor and everything in china is built up).
        That night we went to a mexican restaurant my book raved about only to discover it was closed. We were sad until we saw the bright yellow letters that spelled "SUBWAY." As we were eating, I thought maybe I was a little dillusional from the long day because I read a sign across the street that said "Walmart" with a big smiley face next to it. We checked it out and indeed, there was a Walmart. It had everything the rest of China was missing- products from several different countries- including a full liquor counter with grey goose and captain morgan (haven't seen these anywhere). We refrained though since our bags were already extremely heavy.
         The next morning, we woke up (once again) very early(4:30) to go to Tienanmen Square to watch the flag raising for National Day. It was still dark when we got there and the streets were filled with excited Chinese people. Everyone was extremely patriotic- clapping fo the soldiers, singing and waiving their flags. After the flag was raised, birds were released into the sky- it was really pretty. Everyone was cheering and having a good time. While most people probably went on to start their day, we went back to bed for a few hours since we'd be lacking in the sleep department for the last few days.
        Later that day we went to the silk market. My god was that an experience! We were warned by others how crazy it is- vendors starting out at ridiculous prices and selling things for 20% of their initial amount, pulling on your arms, clothing, anything to get you back, trying to make you feel bad for offering too low of an amount for such "quality." We had a great time haggling and got a couple steals- i bought a really nice jacket for RMB90 and a pair of UGGS for RMB160 which is around $23. We coincidentally ran into another Drake grad there- he was with one of his friends that had been working in China for 11 years. He was telling us it's best to go to the silk market at night, during the week or a random weekend (not a holiday since there are so many people which means more opportunities to sell for high prices and not to haggle as much). He also told us about a Tex Mex restaurant that was close so we tried it out after shopping- it was very reasonable and very good.
        I had talked to Lara (a girl we met during the wall hike-she's lived in Beijing for 2 years and had friends visiting) and she told us about girls night at a club i've heard/read good things about so we said we'd meet her there. We met up with 2 other drake grads teaching in another city that happened to be visiting Beijing the same time. We walked up to the club and were denied cuz we didn't know there was a dress code-flip flops/sandals and shorts weren't allowed. Being that none of us are big club heads, and not knowing anything about the club, we didn't even think about that. It was fine though cuz we walked down the street to place called Pepper Bar and sat out on this roof top bar and did hookah. We had a great time catching up with Zach and Meghan- they've had quite a few crazy adventures themselves. Funny student stories, both being hit on by chinese men, eating unknown things off a stick. On a whim, they bought a dog off the street and returned it hours later after realizing what a crazy idea it was, zach was trying to eat kosher the whole time he was here (he's jewish) and then inhaled a meat lovers pizza before knowing what was on it, and my favorite is hearing about his shopping addiction- they went to a silk store and zach ended up getting fitted for a 900 kuai silk jaket, ha!
         The next morning we planned on meeting up with Zach and Meghan to go see Mao's body. We took the subway for the first time- they're really nice. They tried explaining where they were so we could come to them but there were so many people and we didn't know the names of the things around us so it took forever to meet up! We finally found em and walked up to the sign on the building to discover it was closed! So we went to the silk store where he had another fitting instead. It was really cool inside- so colorful and lively. Afterward we took a long bus ride to the Olympic site. We thought we'd be able to walk around inside the gated area but apparently you needed tickets even to do that and we couldn't find a ticket booth of any kind and we didn't trust the people scalping tickets since there were signs everywhere saying it was illegal to buy from them. So we took pictures through the fence of the water cube and the birds nest.
        We headed back into the city and had a classy lunch at Hooter's and then walked around a really nice  mall that had a ton of american stores- steve madden, adidas, nike, apple, north face, coldstone, starbucks, etc. Although steve madden had a couple pairs of shoes i was really eyein- I had no intention of buying them since i'm stuck in china mode. Our friends Jake and Daniel from the Shiz got into Beijing that day and since they didn't have a place to stay we asked our hostel if they had 2 beds available and they were in luck- there were two beds left in 10 person mixed room so we got em on a bus coming our way.
        We hung out at the hostel for a while and then went to dinner at The Den- Clare had told me about their great happy hour deals. 1/2 off pizza and drinks from 5-10! We had a blast- drank my first rum and diet in china and played drinking games for a few hours before hitting the bars- i think we might have scared jane a bit with how intense everyone was getting during "asshole." We found "shooters," a bar well known for their crazy shots and good music. Everyone was throwin em back and having a great time. We met a lot of other foreigners and danced the night away- helped that DJ was awesome and played a lot of our requests.
        The next day we went back to the Mexican restaurant we tried for before but again it was closed so we again endulged in a subway sandwhich. Afterward we headed to the Forbidden City- at first we couldn't figure out where to go or what line to stand in- I almost got into a physical fight with a man who was pushing his way through the line. After finding out we were in the wrong line and not seeing any signs that said Forbidden City, Jane's lighbulb turned on and said she remembered reading that the Forbidden City was originally called the Palace Museum so we got our tickets (glad we brought our student id cards cuz we got in for a 1/3 of the price) and explored. After walking around for a few hours we decided to head out and look for a DVD shop Zach had told us about. We looked for over an hour but no luck so we headed back to the hostel. On our way back we found this little shop with a bunch of accessories and electronics and ended up finding a hair straightener :)
        That night we had an amazing dinner at a place called Grandma's Kitchen. My book went on and on about how great it was so we checked it out and were very impressed. A salad had never tasted so good. And the atmosphere made it even better- very quaint and homelike. Afterward we went back and planned on staying in (even though it was our last night- we were all pretty tired) and just veggin out but Daniel came into our room and persuaded us to go out with a bang. He went and bought a bottle of vodka and i taught everyone the game "tourettes" (i know its a terrible name for a game but the game itself is quite fun). Daniel was hilarious- he had already been drinking quite a bit so his reaction time was extremely slow and it seemed like he did infact have tourettes because he was screaming out random words that did not work for the game! We went out for a bit and then came back and were out as soon as our heads hit our pillows (except for jane who strolled in at 6am-those crazy brits!)
        The next morning we packed up our stuff and trecked back to the train station (another hour long, extremely packed bus ride- but i lucked out and got a seat next to the cutest little boy and practiced my chinese). Train ride home wasn't bad at all. We never thought we'd say it but after a week of westernized living, we were kinda looking forward to being back to our chinese ways. However, I'm sure it won't be too long til we're achin for another getaway. Our first trip couldn't have been any better- I have a feeling Beijing will be seeing us somewhat frequently in the following months :)  

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